Applauding Won’t Cut It, Girl Scouts USA

Written by Ashley Schaeffer

Topics: Agribusiness

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It’s been two weeks since you joined us in supporting the work of two Girl Scouts, Madison Vorva and Rhiannon Tomtishen, in asking Girl Scouts USA (GSUSA) to get rainforest-destroying palm oil out of Girl Scout cookies. Despite receiving over 10,000 petitions from concerned Girl Scout families and cookie lovers from across the country, GSUSA CEO Kathy Cloninger has still failed to address our concerns.

Sadie from NE Ohio at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo Borneo Orangutan Exhibit. Photo: Kerrie Aman Carfagno
Sadie, a Girl Scout from northeast Ohio, at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo Borneo Orangutan Exhibit. Photo: Kerrie Aman Carfagno

Though GSUSA has decided to ignore scouts Madi & Rhiannon as well as RAN and thousands of activists, the organization is well aware of the issues we’ve raised. One article quotes Michelle Tompkins, a spokeswoman for Girl Scouts USA, saying:

We all want the girls to stand up for what they believe in. They’re trying to make changes, and we applaud them for that.

But this was the only comment from Girl Scouts in the piece. Do you feel like you’ve been left hanging here too? If the Girl Scouts applauds the two activists for standing up for what they believe in (which also happens to be consistent with the science), and what the activists want is to align Girl Scouts’ official policy with the values of the organization, isn’t the next step to show leadership and protect orangutans from being pushed to extinction by palm oil?

If over 10,000 petitions and dozens of media calls to their headquarters hasn’t swayed GSUSA’s top brass yet, perhaps Girl Scout leader Jennifer McNichols of Troop #9045 in Central Texas can get through to them. She makes a strong case in her open letter to the Girl Scouts of USA Board. Here is an excerpt:

The way the Girl Scouts USA leadership — you, the board — have handled our girls’ concerns about the environmental impact of Girl Scout Cookies under the tenure of board president Connie Lindsey and CEO Kathy Cloninger — is starting to make me feel like a hypocrite. And given the choice between my girls and the organization that purports to support them, I’ll choose the girls every time.

Next year’s curriculum is “It’s Your Planet — Love It!” and I’m not making excuses for you any longer. Those voices you heard over the past few months telling people not to buy Girl Scout cookies are going to be louder next year, and you’re going to have fewer allies ready to argue against them. Those who took the bait this year and let themselves believe that your RSPO membership represented a meaningful change in direction will experience nagging doubts. And as for my girls — Troop 9045 — we are going to hold ourselves responsible for what we say and do, and we are going to practice what you preach. We’re going to discuss, evaluate, and decide as a troop how to address the issue of Girl Scout cookies’ role in the deforestation of Indonesia and the likely extinction of one of the most amazing species on our planet. And we’re going to do it whether you’re on board or not.

Though they so far refuse to take these concerns seriously, Girl Scouts USA found time to send out a notice last week, the final week of sales, to the thousands of volunteers who coordinate Girl Scout troop cookie sales. The point of the notice was to reassure girls and their families that:

Girl Scouts of Northern California and our cookie supplier, Little Brownie Bakers, takes our shared commitment to the environment very seriously. Girl Scouts and Little Brownie Bakers continue to conduct our business in ways that protect the environment and demonstrate good stewardship of our world’s natural resources. Our baker is continuing to work toward the best combination of ingredients that are environmentally responsible and provide the taste Girl Scout Cookie customers expect.

The palm oil that is used in very limited amounts by our baker for Girl Scout cookies comes from palm oil suppliers that are part of the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil… In other words, Girl Scouts and Little Brownie Bakers uses suppliers of palm oil that have committed to using palm oil without exhausting natural resources or causing ecological damage.

Hmmm, they only use suppliers that have committed to using palm oil without exhausting natural resources or causing ecological damage? Last time I checked, one of Girl Scout USA’s key suppliers of palm oil, Cargill, hadn’t even adopted the most basic safeguards in their global supply chain to guarantee they weren’t buying palm oil grown in cleared rainforests. And call me crazy, but I’m pretty sure that leading scientists and even RSPO member companies admit that most palm oil cultivation, from the forest-clearing and burning to the agro toxins, can cause major ecological damage without appropriate safeguards.

Girl Scouts from across the country are taking a stand for orangutans while working toward their Rainforest Hero badge. Please join us today, without your help endangered orangutans inch closer to extinction!

10 Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. Yvonne Lincoln says:

    When ERA was up for vote as a constitutional amendment, the Girl Scouts supported it to the point of pulling their cookie contract with their Oklahoma baker because the state of Oklahoma was so much against ERA. If GSA believes in helping the environment enough to make next year’s curriculum “It’s Your Planet — Love It!”, then they need to show the same backbone they did with ERA.

  2. Yvonne Lincoln says:

    Equal Rights Amendment — equal rights for women (and girls). Do you mind if I ask how old you are?

  3. Joyce Major says:

    I spent 5 mo in Bali volunteering for the Sumatra Orangutan Society. I saw first hand on a trip to Sumatra exactly what is going on…the destruction of the rainforest is being replaced by palm oil. The orangutans have less habitat. If Sumatra could follow Rwanda’s plan,the very species that is becoming extinct could become the species to bring money to the country. But whatever the solution, RSPO is just a front. We need to keep pushing to save those wonderful orangs and all the other creatures that live in the rainforest.

  4. David Rosenstein says:

    Bravo to Jennifer McNichols and Troop 9045 for your caring and action!

    Rhiannon and Madi are the types of young women that the Girls Scouts should be acknowledging, encouraging and supporting instead of ignoring!! The Girl Scout leadership should stop merely doing PR and “spin” about their social and environmental values and take a leadership role in using sustainable alternatives to palm oil. There are hundreds of thousands of former and current Girl Scouts that deserve leaders with more vision and a stronger “moral” compass.

  5. Libbey Harmon says:

    An interesting fact is that all Girl Scout cookies across the country are ultimately supplied by Keebler or Kellogg… why isn’t there an effort to go after the big companies instead of the Girl Scouts? I understand that the Girl Scouts of the USA should make a stand (and practice what they preach) but when you’re dealing with two large companies like Keebler and Kellogg… that takes some major change!! Plus why make the girls pay by not buying the cookies? It’s usually their largest money earning project each year that allows them to do great things like standing up for what they believe?

  6. Ashley Schaeffer says:

    Thanks for your comment, Libbey. I hear you that there are many big fish out there in the sea of cookie companies and why do we have to pick on Girl Scouts USA (GSUSA)? To be clear, we are first and foremost working on this issue to support Madi & Rhiannon. It is upsetting that GSUSA could ignore their own two brave scouts for so many years, especially considering the importance of their role in acting responsibly on behalf of future generations of young women. Our work simply adds muscle to their already existing campaign. In addition, I’m happy to shed some light on our strategy:

    I do not think pressuring the cookie manufacturers directly will achieve our goal of getting Girl Scouts USA to adopt a strong palm oil policy by next cookie season for their 100th Anniversary.

    The two Girl Scout cookie bakers, Little Brownie Bakers (owned by Keebler who is owned by Kellogg’s) and ABC/Interbake, meet the needs of GSUSA based on a business model, so unless the demand for change is coming from GSUSA, we won’t get anywhere by pushing the bakers to remove rainforest destruction from the cookies they bake for GSUSA.

    What’s more, GSUSA needs to prove to their Girl Scouts and the public that their cookies do not contain orangutan extinction or rainforest destruction. Right now they simply can’t do that, especially with their misleading RSPO Membership claims (see:

    Together we have a collective capacity to push Girl Scouts USA to realize that their cookie business needs to get aligned with the organization’s values and mission. And only until they hear this demand from enough Girl Scouts, troop leaders and concerned people will they approach their two cookie bakers and figure out a way to make their cookies rainforest safe.

    Until then, well, Jennifer McNichols and Troop 9045 have already said it.

  7. Madison & Rhiannon says:

    Thank you to everyone (including RAN!) who has shown support for this issue.

    Libbey, that is a very valid question that we are asked a lot! We chose to focus on Girl Scout Cookies because we ourselves are Girl Scouts. Ironically enough, we began researching and raising awareness about the orangutan and palm oil as part of our Girl Scout Bronze Award and along the way, discovered that the organization that had allowed us to begin this project was in fact contributing to orangutan extinction and rainforest deforestation. We believe that GSUSA, which promotes leadership among their girls and a sense of responsibility to the planet, should be held to higher standards and as you said, practice what they preach.

    We had the opportunity to meet with two representatives from Kelloggs’ a couple of years ago to discuss this issue and although they expressed interest, the ultimate decision to remove or change the palm oil in Girl Scout Cookies has to come from GSUSA, the bakers do not get to decide. So, for now, our goal has been to focus on convincing GSUSA to commit to taking action and remove rainforest destroying palm oil from our cookies, as opposed to the two bakers.

    We believe that Girl Scouts should not have to choose between supporting their troop and supporting rainforest destruction/orangutan extinction. As the picture in the above article says, our future should have both Girl Scout Cookies AND orangutans!! It is time for the GSUSA to live up to the Girl Scout Law and “make the world a better place”.

  8. Maja Ramirez says:

    Hey to everyone who’s true in spirit, as in “How the Girl Guides Won the War”!

    If GSUSA acknowledges the problem with palm oil in the cookies, they will have to look and see if it’s also in the products of GS’s other big corporate supporter’s products… yes I mean Dove, and I’m betting it is there too.

    In the span of less than a decade, palm oil has become insidious in crackers, peanut butter and similar jarred products, and baked goods – even those from Whole Foods (even though I don’t see as well as I used to, I read labels). This is really our David-and-Goliath battle, it’s not going to be easy, but here I am in the trenches with you.

    Here’s an alternative idea: Gardens Alive! flower sales/fundraiser. Gardens Alive! is a great ecologically-minded company I’ve ordered from many times, and I hope to utilize this fundraiser with my troop next year.
    Wouldn’t it be awesome if GS would team up with them!?

  9. Ashley S says:

    Thanks to everyone who has supported Madi & Rhiannon’s campaign through RAN by signing our petition to GSUSA! With your help we hope to convince GSUSA to demand that their cookie bakers remove rainforest destruction from Girl Scout cookies in celebration of next year’s 100 Year Anniversary! I hope you will all consider taking part in this fun opportunity to make Girl Scout cookies rainforest safe by taking a photo with your troop! Check it out:

Trackbacks For This Post

  1. BankTrack BLOG » Applauding Won’t Cut It, Girl Scouts USA
  2. Michelle Obama: Girl Scouts USA Needs a Palm Oil Intervention » Rainforest Action Network Blog
  3. A Boundless Life » Blog Archive » No One Wants to Earn a Deforestation Badge

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